When we consider a “profession” we often think of paid experts: lawyers; engineers; nurses and doctors; teachers; musicians; electricians and many many more. So, if we think about the word “professionalisation” we could be forgiven for thinking that this implies we are thinking about the use and development of “paid professionals”. But, as Gershwin so eloquently and rhythmically tells us in Porgy and Bess “it ain’t necessarily so”.
A profession can, of course, be defined as something from which an individual may earn a living. But that’s a rather limited way of looking at things. If we want to look beyond this definition, and we should, we might also see a profession as akin to a vocation which is founded on specialised educational training. Indeed, nursing, clearly a profession is also described as a vocation. And a vocation, a calling, a desire to put education, training, experience and commitment to good use does not rely on remuneration as a stimulus or basis for continued engagement.
Of course, there has to be some kind of “compensation” and, in any calling or vocation, whether it be caring for a relative, being a parent, volunteering to help in a community centre, very often that compensation is knowing that all the experience and learning one has is going towards making a real, positive difference to someone else’s life.
In that vein we might reasonably and accurately suggest that a call for the professionalisation of victim and witness services is not a clarion call to move towards the use, exclusively, of paid staff to engage in the vital work of supporting witnesses and victims and help them cope and recover from their experiences. And so it’s not a way of simply asking for more money to be pumped into the sector without being quite so explicit.
Rather, a call for professionalisation is to suggest the need for all the experience, all the training and learning to be turned into the most effective and identifiable outcomes for victims and to make sure that it is delivered to a consistent set of standards that are clearly understood; it’s about being able to show that what is done is an integral part of that process, that journey, of coping and recovery. It’s about not simply relying on good intentions or having the right policies and procedures in place (important though they are). It’s about values, standards and the ability to show that these are having the impact they set out to have, that they are delivering effective outcomes.